Shoulder season pleasures

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August 28, 2010

By Bob Difley

Tillicom Beach 001Labor Day marks the unofficial end of summer. When all the school age among us, from pre-kindergarten through graduate school, have returned or are about to return to the hallowed halls of academe. What makes this season a time to pop the Champagne cork for RVers is that suddenly the two-lane roads winding along the coastlines no longer resemble commute hours on Los Angeles freeways. Campground Full signs normally found in summer at state parks across the country have disappeared. Reservations for popular RV resorts and beach campgrounds need no longer be arranged three months in advance.

Yippee!! I love school. Well, at least for us retiree fulltimers, anyway. Probably not the same elation for moms filling backpacks with ever-increasing quantities of school supplies that schools don’t provide any more.  But for those still on the road, we can now do all those neat things we haven’t been able to do for the last three months, i.e.: set the cruise control, drive at the speed limit, find parking spaces, find campsites without reservations, fine even good campsites without reservations, find campsites without neighbors on each side (week days, any way), enjoy peace and quiet after 10 o’clock at night, hear fewer barking dogs, and we notice a decrease in campfire size from the burning-of-Rome model surrounded by tipsy twenty-somethings shouting in LOUDER THAN NECESSARY voices.

I’m sure you can think of a lot more perks of the shoulder season, when summer’s heat becomes less oppressive, yet it’s too early to make a bee line for the desert where temps are still in the 90s. This is the season when we can safely stop making campground reservations and just wing it, choosing destinations with no planning other than a whim, turning left instead of right just to see what’s there, paging through the guide books for obscure destinations never before considered, and heading for some place mentioned by other RVers that you’ve never heard of. It is the season for exploration.

This is also the season when you can think camping according to altitude (not attitude), the RVers weather conditioning system–the higher you are, the cooler it will be, the lower, hotter. Start looking for those locations that sit mid-altitude, lower than the mountains, higher than the low deserts. Places that are too hot in summer, too cold in mid-winter. Locations, just to mention a few, like the upper elevations of the Sedona to Prescott area and the southeastern corner of Arizona, California’s Joshua Tree National Park, Great Basin National Park and the scattered patches of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest in northeastern Nevada, the St. George and Dixie National Forest of southwestern Utah, and most of New Mexico, and a lot more locations in  other states (add yours below–if you want to reveal them).

It is the season for moving, ever so slowly south, like the turtle with its house on its back. No rush. Follow the weather. There are lots of places you wouldn’t see unless you slowed down and tried RVing on a whim.

And while you’re kicking back enjoying the pleasures of the season, visit my Healthy RV Lifestyle website for more RVing and destination tips and check out my ebooks, Snowbird Guide to Boondocking in the Southwestern Deserts, BOONDOCKING: Finding the Perfect Campsite on America’s Public Lands, and 111 Ways to get the Biggest Bang from your RV Lifestyle Buck.

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  3. Tex

    RE: “We’re planning to drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway in October. Should we make reservations ahead of time for campsites along the way? This is the 75th anniversary of the Parkway; we’ve never been there and don’t know what to expect.”

    Judith, I can’t advise whether you should make reservations ahead of time, but take a look at what you already know; namely, it’s a major anniversary of the BRP, and you want to go in a prime season. What does your instinct tell you?

    Would you like to go with assured lodging, or would you like to go on a wing-and-a-prayer? You can figure it out, right?

    Take care,

  4. Judith Hanks

    We’re planning to drive up the Blue Ridge Parkway in October. Should we make reservations ahead of time for campsites along the way? This is the 75th anniversary of the Parkway; we’ve never been there and don’t know what to expect.

  5. Joeseph

    I just got back from a week in the NC mountains, perfectly timed between the beginning of school and the rush of labor day. The place was absolutely uncrowded, yet everything was still open. We could drive, hike, explore, whatever, roll into a parkway campground about 5pm and have our choice of open spots without reservations.

    The leaf watchers will quash the peace and quiet here in the fall, and no way I’d want to be in one of those campgrounds tonight (Labor day weekend).

    Go against the crowds; it’s a great idea.

  6. Jim

    If it wasn’t for the “birds”, the locals would see their taxes skyrocketing. The hard earned dollars form the north help support the economy in the south. Don’t forget to return the favor!

  7. Tex

    Yep. We like the off-season when all the ankle-biters are back in school. Don’t get me wrong; we have 9 beautiful grandkids and love to show them the fun of camping when they’re out of school in the Summer. But the Fall, Winter and Spring camping is the best for DW and me, so we mostly park during the summer months when it gets to 100 degrees and the traffic gets so thick that you could almost walk across the tops of stopped cars on the Interstate.

    Now, what I don’t understand is why anyone in Florida would use terms like “overrun” and “overwhelmed” as if describing rodent infestations when they are referring to one of the three main forms of income to the state. Namely Oranges, Grapefruit and Tourists. What hospitality! Those terms aren’t used by the Florida Chamber of Commerce, are they? Does North and South Carolina refer to being “overrun” by Crackers when you venture up to their mountains in the summer to cool off? Why don’t Floridians just go to Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi or Louisiana to camp when they are “overwhelmed” by all the touring dollars that come into the state during the shoulder seasons? Go see something different. You’d even be welcome over here in Texas. Just don’t bring that gratingly annoying tomahawk chop thingy.

  8. Phil

    Manuel’s right — we in Florida are overwhelmed with snowbirds all winter long! We’re lucky to be able to find a spot for a 3 or 4 day getaway since the birds have everything socked in for the duration. Even when a campground has sites open they don’t take reservations for anything less than two weeks. Of course the birds’ motorhomes are used just for the trip to Florida where they sit for 4 months or so, then they go back north to sit unused for the rest of the year. Some of us can’t be full-timers, but would like to use our rigs once or twice a month all year long — but good luck with that, huh?

  9. Great post Bob! I love this time of year for the weather more than anything, but for all the reasons you mentioned, too. Another reason to love shoulder season: off-season or off-peak rates! Since I’m the parent of three school-aged kids, the family budget gets pretty crunched once school starts. Even though the off-peak rates aren’t that much less expensive, they’re still a welcome relief. And, sorry Ron, but since we send you our snowbirds, maybe you’d want to come up to the Midwest for a trip or two? I’m sure you’d find somewhere nice, and there’s plenty of available spots 🙂

  10. Ron Butler

    Love the shoulder seasons Bob! Don’t have to plan ahead for reservations now!

    John sure didn’t have to give away the secrets of the Oregon coast for everyone else!!

    I can sympathize with Manuel as well, but there sure seems to be a lot of Floridians up here in the northwest this summer!!

    We try to not use the state parks up here during the summer, just so familys can enjoy them. We just got back from the Oregon coast and Ft. Stevens SP where we 5 days with our daughter and her family. Had to make those reservations in Jan.!! Used our private membership in other parks while there.

  11. Drew

    The California Delta area- any season of the year.


  12. Manuel Enos

    This is true unless of course, you live in those state that are overrun by snowbirds in the winter. Try getting an RV spot in Florida!! Most of the snowbirds have made reservations from last year and they have socked in our parks. Those of us who love to RV in the winter for short weekend get aways have a hard time finding a State or U.S. park that is not full to the brim with Snowbirds even though they can only really stay for two weeks at a time; some how they have found a way around this…Therefore, we have to book yearly for a 3 day stay at one of our State or U.S. parks. This will probably tick off some RVers who read this but so be it…We who live here love our parks too!!

  13. September and October are the perfect time of year to visit the Washington and Oregon coasts. The beaches actually often get better weather in September than in August, as they don’t get the coastal fog that’s so common in summer. The days can be warm, and the water is about as warm as it gets on the Pacific Northwest coast.

    And as you mentioned, the State Parks may actually have room, although you may still need reservations for the more popular ones.